On some levels, the Lakers shouldn’t have won tonight. They started the game looking like they were still recovering from last night’s Kobe-hosted Thanksgiving dinner; sluggish and not as alert. They fell behind 16-7 quickly, turning the ball over and failing to play any defense, not to mention getting outrebounded. It wasn’t until the star of the game, Wesley Johnson, hit his second three up to that point and managed to wake up the rest of his team.
The Lakers spent the entire evening answering each Detroit run with a few of their own, falling behind by as much as 10 points. The Pistons owned the paint tonight, and the Lakers did very little to stop them. If not for the threeball, a feature in their offense from which they live and die, the Lakers’ road trip might’ve ended differently. Fortunately for them, their efforts came together in the end and they get to head home with a 106-102 win and a 9-8 record.
Wesley Johnson – Slowly but surely, Wes Johnson has impacted each game in a number of small ways. Some games, he contributes a handful of threes. Other times, his dunks make the highlight reel. And when he’s not scoring, he’s blocking shots, collecting steals or simply interrupting his opponent with his long arms and quick reflexes. Tonight, however, it all seemed to come together. Johnson had his biggest game as a Laker with 27 points on 9-11 from the field, 6-7 from downtown, six rebounds, a pair of assists, and three blocks. He was the recipient of the highlight of the night when, at the end of the first half, Steve Blake inbounded a lob to Johnson, who dunked it in to end the second quarter, under the careless eye of his “defender” Josh Smith.
Shawne Williams – Boy was Shawne Williams due for a good shooting night. His stat lines before tonight’s game were filled with putrid shooting percentages. It was about time he made use of the minutes that he’s constantly given, but didn’t seem to earn. He led the bench scoring tonight with his 20 points on 7-13 from the field, 6-11 from downtown, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.
Bench and Balance – The Laker reserves outscored the Pistons bench 52-37. In the deciding fourth quarter, they outscored them 28-4. With the Laker bench producing as much as they do consistently (that’s the keyword, consistently), the scoring responsibility in each game is balanced among the players. Tonight, there were six Lakers in double figures – three starters and three reserves. In each of the Lakers’ 17 games this season, a different player has emerged as the offensive leader. Sure, Pau Gasol has had a few games to his credit, but so have each of his teammates, starter or reserve. That has been the beauty of this ragtag group of players wearing purple and gold this season – their balance, which can be attributed to another keyword this season, chemistry.
Pau Gasol – Another double-double night for Gasol, with his 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Late-Game Close-Out – Sure, they would’ve been better served had they sustained an effort and focus from beginning to end, but the Lakers managed to get it together during moments in a game in which they have had a difficult time working through – the closing minutes. They figured it out against Brooklyn despite blowing a 27-point lead, and they figured it out tonight in the final quarter after falling behind by 10. Farmar hit a jumper to get them the 101-99 lead with just over a minute to go in the game and Nick Young scored on a layup, took a charge and bit both of his free throws to seal the victory.
Turnovers – In the first half alone, the Lakers collected 10 turnovers that resulted in 10 Pistons points. They finished the game with 17 giveaways, which gave way to 20 points for Detroit.
Points in the Paint – 76-28 points in the paint disparity between the Pistons and Lakers. It’s a good thing their threeball was working and that Detroit is the worst free throw shooting team in the league. There was just no interior defense for the Lakers, which is where all their focus should have been since Detroit is also the worst three-point shooting team in the league. The Pistons strolled to the hoop at times with no purple uniforms trying to stop them.
Rebounds – At one point in the game, the Pistons were outrebounding the Lakers 49-31. They finished with a 55-44 advantage, but the most glaring stat was the offensive rebounds column , 22-11. 22 offensive rebounds which led to 25 second chance points.
Free throws – After three quarters, the Lakers were 15-19 from the free throw line. In the fourth quarter alone, however, they went just 5-11, most notable was the 0-2 from Jordan Farmar in the waning seconds of the game that could have sealed the win sooner.
Jordan Hill – He went up for a rebound and rolled his left ankle. The prognosis, so far, is a sprained ankle. Hopefully, it’s a mild sprain that can be healed with some ice and relaxation…if even for a day.
The Lakers toughed out a good game tonight, and a lot of their character really shone through as a result. Are they still trying to figure out some things? Yes. But have they made progress? Most definitely.
Next up are the red-hot Portland Trailblazers. Let’s see if the Lakers’ chemistry can help them through that game, but a desire to rebound and play defense would probably be a good start.